March 2017 Issue

  • Children’s Trust of Roanoke spinning wheels to prevent child abuse

    This spring silver and blue pinwheels will be sparkling and whirling all around town as a reminder you could be a hero to a child in your community. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The source of the pinwheels is Children’s Trust. For 30 years, Children’s Trust has been the premier prevention agency in the region striving “to prevent child abuse and neglect and provide continuous support for children through investigation and court proceedings.” The organization’s ultimate goal is to “help make kids safer and adults better parents through education.”

    The first Virginia Child Advocacy Center opened in Bristol, Virginia in 1998. There are now 15 centers in Virginia with one satellite center. Their multidisciplinary team approach brings together all the professionals and agencies needed to offer comprehensive services:  law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, mental health, medical and victim advocacy.

    ColorsVA magazine visited Children’s Trust of Roanoke Valley to interview staff and volunteers about their vital work. Emotional abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect, physical abuse and/or sexual abuse are all reasons a child from infancy to age 21, may need rescuing. Child abuse is often a factor in:

    • Permanent physical injury and/or death
    • Developmental delays (physical, emotional and intellectual)
    • Chronic health problems
    • Low self-esteem
    • Poor relationships
    • Substance abuse
    • Mental illness
    • Criminal behavior

    A better future for abused children begins through the work of CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates. Nearly 125 children were rescued from harmful environments last year. “We don’t remove children from their parents,” says CASA Director Judy Jacobsen. In abusive situations, Department of Social Services (DSS) intervenes first; the case is taken to court where a judge determines whether the child/children should be removed from their home. “We come in after that process to determine, working with everyone who has contact with that child, what is the best outcome going forward.” Some children eventually are able to return home. In 2016, 118 abused children found safe, permanent homes.

    CASA has 44 volunteer advocates from the community and needs more. The group is actively recruiting now before training a new group next month. Asked why she donates her time to being a CASA advocate, Corinna Dunn said, “It’s in my heart. I’m a mom. It’s got to be in your heart or you can’t do this work.” Her first case this year involves three children under 12 who have had DSS involvement since 2015. Their mother is a victim of domestic abuse with a relapsing substance abuse history.

    Carla Terry, another mom, has been a CASA advocate since 2008. Dunn recruited Terry, a fellow church and choir member. Terry also influenced fellow Coca-Cola employee Summer Holland to volunteer in 2010. Holland has worked with children since her early teens and hopes to find a job in the Juvenile Justice system when she graduates from Liberty University’s paralegal and criminal studies programs. These three advocates came to the program with personal passion for children rather than specific professional backgrounds. They eagerly recommend the advocate program to others. “If you think you might be interested, don’t be intimidated,” says Terry. “You’ll make a difference! You’ll take a child out of sadness.”

    CASA advocates do not have to possess special degrees or certificates to become part of the program. All they need is a love for children and passion for justice for them. Dunn says her 35 hours of wide-ranging training got her ready and confident. CASA advocate training will take place in April. “I love the training. I learned so much and felt so well prepared,” Holland adds. Never have they felt personal fear while handling a case or feared retaliation. That’s due to the strong support system that exists. In addition, CASA volunteers agree resources available to them are so plentiful they never feel alone. The volunteers and Jacobsen share mutual adoration. “She’s our go-to person,” says Terry. They also give credit for the success of CASA to Kristen Thadlock-Bell, program director, and to lawyer Holly Peters, program supervisor. Janice Dinkins Davidson serves as director of Children’s Trust of Roanoke Valley. Davidson announced the organization has just added a fifth program to their services. That program, she says, provides a complete galaxy of child/family emotional support.

    Including CASA the following resources are available:

    Children First – Speak Up – Last year 3,348 elementary school children learned how to protect their bodies from sexual abuse; Stewards of Children – 90 adults – were taught how to protect children.

    Children’s Advocacy Centers in the Roanoke and New River Valleys are child-centered, community-based facilities where children who have suffered abuse can talk freely and be comforted during the investigation process to reduce their trauma. In 2016 376 children were provided these services.

    Conflict Resolution Center provides the community with innovative, affordable, cooperative ways to resolve differences and transform relationships through mediation. Another 244 families received services through the center, learning how to negotiate for custody, visitation and child support.

    Healthy Families offers screening and in-depth assessment of expectant new parents. The staff to connect them to parenting support that will make them capable of less stressful parenting, raising healthy secure children within resilient, self-sufficient families. Healthy Families Program Director can be reached at

    Children’s Trust is located in the Jefferson Center, 540 Luck Avenue, Suite 308, Roanoke, (540) 344-3579. To find the nearest Children’s Trust of Virginia center, visit

  • Nuts, fruits and vegetables – superfoods that will improve your life

    Superfoods are rich in protein, fiber and the vitamins and minerals your body needs to work properly. They also are full of phytonutrients, compounds found in plant foods that function as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, protect healthy cells, minimize or reverse damage and aid in the elimination of harmful substances. Further, they help to minimize the risk of developing a host of chronic illnesses, such as obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as help reduce the damage that these conditions might cause.

    Beans, berries, sweet potatoes, nuts, broccoli and garlic are all superfoods that can be easily incorporated into your daily diet and favorite dishes for optimal health. Here’s how:

    Beans promote gastrointestinal and heart health, lower blood pressure and cholesterol and protect against numerous types of cancers. Aim for a half a cup of cooked beans or just a cup of soymilk to get your recommended daily intake.

    Ounce-for-ounce berries have more antioxidants than any other fruit or vegetable. Add half a cup to cereal, yogurt, smoothies, salads, or just eat them by themselves as a delicious and easy snack.

    Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, vitamins C and E, folate, thiamin, riboflavin, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium and a multitude of phytonutrients. A daily serving is either a small potato or a half a cup of mashed sweet potatoes.

    Nuts protect against heart disease, lower bad cholesterol, reduce your risk of many types of cancers, support gastrointestinal health and improve brain function. Consume just one to two ounces per day, but watch out for the flavored varieties, which can be high in added salt and/or sugar.

    Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are extremely high in fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Increased intake is associated with a decreased risk of lung, stomach, colon and prostate cancers. Just half a cup cooked or one cup raw per day is all you need to get the many benefits of this superfood.

    Garlic is high in antioxidants and is easily added to many dishes. It supports heart health, increases antioxidant enzymes that decrease cancer risk, inhibits carcinogen formation and secretion, has blood thinning effects and antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Add just one clove of fresh crushed or minced garlic for maximum benefits.

    For more information on these superfoods and how to incorporate them into your diet, talk to your family physician or visit

  • Scholar of the Month: Graciela Cruz

    Graciela Cruz is a timid 17-year-old attending Eastern Montgomery High School in Elliston. She attended Shawsville Middle School and briefly, Shawsville Elementary. Born in Utah, Graciela lived in Mexico, Missouri, Ohio and several different communities in Virginia all before reaching third grade. She thinks her transient early childhood contributed to some aspects of her personality. “It’s part of the reason why I am so shy now,” she admits. “I don’t like to get too attached to things because I moved around so much as a kid.”

    Throughout all the transition, Graciela has to contend with a language barrier. “When I was growing up, my parents did not know any English whatsoever,” she says. With Spanish-speaking parents, she did not learn English until she started school. “The teachers didn’t speak any Spanish, so it was very difficult to learn.” Graciela was able to recognize certain English words by hearing them repeatedly in conversation. Hand gestures and pointing to objects also proved beneficial in communicating. The Hispanic population in Montgomery County represents less than 3 percent of the nearly 98,000 residents, which presents challenges for her parents’ interactions within the community. Growing up, Graciela would often translate for her parents. She remembers being with them in Wal-Mart where people asked her to act as a translator. Her English today is a testament to the power of immersion and evidence of Graciela’s potential.

    She puts forth great effort to maintain her grades because she knows it will yield better opportunities in her future. However, her grades have not always been a priority though. When she was younger, her GPA suffered. By the time she was in seventh grade, though, she realized she needed to buckle down and focus in order to get into a good college and receive scholarships. She saw the difficulties her older brothers faced because of not taking school seriously, but her mother’s diligence and strong work ethic greatly encouraged her. Speaking of her mother, Graciela acknowledged, “I’ve never looked up to anyone else more.”

    Graciela says American history is easier for her “because it never really changes.” However, she never has possessed a knack for science, so her ecology class requires a little more of her. When it comes to the more difficult classes, her friends are a big help. They often talk on the phone or FaceTime each other while doing homework so they can ask each other questions. Sometimes they also take advantage of their lunch period by going to the library to work together. During free time, Graciela and her friends shoot hoops at their community basketball court.

    Graciela boasts a 3.8 GPA and is a member of Beta Club, an academic honors society with membership based on GPA. She also is a part of Girl Talk, a mentorship program exclusively at Eastern Montgomery. Girl Talk allows high school girls to build relationships with younger girls to help prepare them for the transition from elementary school to middle school and from middle school to high school.

    Helping other people is very rewarding to Graciela. She intends to get a master’s degree and become a family therapist, a profession that has touched her personally. “When I was in eighth grade, I was going through a difficult time in my life,” she explains. Her mother was in a terrible accident at work, which almost took her life. That accident negatively affected Graciela. She became very sad and eventually her mother sought therapy for her. “When I met my therapist, I just thought she was wonderful at her job. She could do so many things, impact so many lives. I just loved the idea of it.” Becoming a family therapist will provide Graciela the ability to give back and help others in the same manner. Her experiences will undoubtedly aid her ability to relate to others, and her quiet demeanor will allow her to be an excellent listener. Graciela will graduate from Eastern Montgomery in June. This fall she will attend Radford University and begin her journey to therapist.

  • Stedman Speaks: In the market for a mortgage loan?

    Understanding mortgages can be tricky. In this edition, Stedman shares basic facts about how mortgages work and which type might be right for you.

    Q: A mortgage is a big deal, but how is it different from a rent payment?
    SP: Paying rent or mortgage both help put a roof over your head, but that is where the similarities end. When you break down the four main components of a mortgage, it’s a lot different than rent. First, a mortgage includes principal, which is the amount of money you borrowed from the bank to pay for your house. Next is interest, which is a percentage rate you pay for taking out the loan. This is how the financial institution profits from your mortgage loan. Real estate taxes are included as well, and the amount you pay is based on the value of your property. Finally, your mortgage payment includes homeowner’s insurance and, for some borrowers, private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can be required if you are not able to make a larger down payment (usually 20 percent).

    Q: What happens if I don’t pay my mortgage on time?
    SP: A mortgage payment is typically due on the first of every month. Most lenders offer a grace period and will not charge a late fee if you pay before then. If you still haven’t made your payment once the grace period is over, the consequences are more serious. These include a late fee and damage to your credit score. The best thing to do if you find yourself in this situation is to contact your lender. Most will understand that money gets tight sometimes and might be willing to work out a payment plan so you don’t continue to fall behind on your mortgage. Failing to pay your mortgage for months in a row and not communicating with your lender puts you in danger of foreclosure.

    Q: What mortgage options are out there?
    SP: A mortgage is based on your unique situation, but here are some basics. To start, most mortgages have either a fixed interest rate or an adjustable interest rate. A fixed-rate mortgage means you’ll have the same interest rate for the entire repayment term. An adjustable-rate mortgage has an interest rate that changes over time based on the market. From there, additional mortgage options are available. For example, a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan allows you to make a down payment as low as 3.5 percent, but comes with mortgage insurance for the life of the loan. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) loan is for military service members and their families and offers 100 percent financing for the purchase of a home. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers a loan for borrowers in rural areas that meet certain income criteria. More options are available, so it’s best to consult a mortgage lender for details.

    Q: How do I decide which mortgage type is right for me?
    SP: Take a good look at your current financial situation and lifestyle. If you plan to be in your home for the long haul, a fixed-rate mortgage with a predictable payment each month is probably a good option. If you foresee moving from your home in five years or less, you could consider an adjustable-rate mortgage. These mortgage types typically start out with a lower interest rate, but can increase unexpectedly. Once you have decided on a fixed or adjustable rate mortgage, meet with a lender. They can help guide you through determining which mortgage option you qualify for that fits your budget.

    Q: I have seen ads on TV for online mortgages. Is that a good option?
    SP: It is if you want an impersonal experience. Buying a home is one of the biggest financial decisions of your life – give it the careful planning and attention it deserves. Would you trust such a life-changing event to someone you’ve never met? You will be handing over a lot of sensitive, personal information when shopping for a mortgage and an online lender might not be the most secure choice. A good mortgage lender offers superior customer service and is there every step of the way. Getting a mortgage is a complicated process, and you will want to have someone you can trust to answer questions and offer advice. 

    Watch out for Stedman Payne’s column in the next edition of ColorsVA for more useful financial tips.

    Stedman Payne is an experienced financial professional who serves as Member One’s Market Executive in the Lynchburg area. His financial education series offers tips for making smart decisions when it comes to managing your finances.

  • Duck Brand Clothing and Apparel taking flight in Danville

    “A friend is someone you share the path with.”

    This African proverb describes perfectly Sean Woods and Travis Tarpley. As natives of Danville, the two knew each other as athletes at George Washington, the local high school. Talking to Woods, you learn he tends to take a little extra time to contemplate things before making decisions. Tarpley, on the other hand, has great ideas, and when he’s ready to put those ideas into action, he is ready to put them into action. There’s a nine-year age difference between the two. Still, their opposing attributes complement each other as they grow their business partnership.

    Another thing you notice about the duo is they both are quite stylish. Each enjoys his own personal flair, but not at all in an off-putting manner. When they found themselves unimpressed with offerings of the fashion world, Woods and Tarpley set out to create a clothing line that would pay homage to home while upholding a desired simplicity. Vintage Duck Brand Clothing and Apparel Company established in September 2015, was the result.

    Inspiration can spring up anywhere and at any time, and it was during a walk along the Dan River Tarpley found his. Apparel companies use all kinds of animals to serve as brand icons. Lacoste uses the crocodile. Abercrombie & Fitch chose the moose. The Marc Ecko brand sports a rhinoceros. Standing on the bank of the Dan River, Tarpley watched the waterfowl. He appreciated the adaptability exhibited as ducks gracefully transitioned from land to water to air. The duck epitomized what Vintage Duck Brand would be.

    Vintage Duck Brand never has aimed for a target audience. The goal always has been to produce a simple yet classic, homegrown brand that offers lasting comfort to people from all walks of life. Versatility is the calling card of VDB. All around town people sport the signature duck, whether it’s the original black-and-white, the red-winged design, the signature paisley pattern of which Tarpley is so fond, or a camouflage. There is a pattern for everyone, and that makes VDB a success. Whatever you’re looking for, Tarpley and Woods aim to provide. If they see a person wearing one of their polo shirts, a fitted cap or a varsity jacket, they can easily recall who made that particular sale. Attention to both product detail and the individual customer is what each of us wants when shopping. That is precisely what they aim to provide.

    The apparel industry is fluid, and he team at VDB makes full use of social media as they work to build their empire. The update the company Facebook page regularly to notify customers of new products and announcements. They welcome customers posting pictures of themselves in VDB gear in order to bring even more attention to the label. VDB may have its roots in Danville, but it is not just locals experiencing #TheFlyover. VDB is internationally known, satisfying faithful customers with orders to Afghanistan and even to Dubai. For online orders visit Customers also can take advantage of FaceTime shopping.

    Tarpley is an Instagram guru and is quite perceptive in his use of hashtags in order to ensure the brand flies all over the world. He understands the power of social media as an instrument to spread one’s wings. His posts contain photos of new and hot gear showcasing VDB-adorned customers, and he cleverly creates catchy tags such as, #FindYourVintage, #StayVintage and #DuckinAround.

    It is not all about the Benjamins for the pair. The men make sure VDB is involved in the community. During Christmas, VDB supports a local foundation’s clothing and toy drive for children in need. Last March VDB participated in Operation Clean Water, collecting bottled water for the citizens of Flint, MI. Breast cancer awareness is another VDB project. They keep a special stock of pink tees just for this cause. One of the goals as the company broadens is to open a small manufacturing plant in Danville so all operations eventually are under one roof. This idea is significant to VDB because Dan River Mills, once the hallmark of the city, closed years ago. Revitalizing textile manufacturing would demonstrate recognition of an era the city holds dear while simultaneously embracing all the future offers.

    In Vintage Duck Brand Clothing & Apparel Company, you enjoy quality apparel and personal care from young men who are committed to improving the community in which they serve. What could be better than that? Fly on over to 620 Westover Drive, Suite C, and #EmbodyTheDuck.


  • Visiting Voice: Judging the judges

    A greater purpose, future and opportunity await millions of African American men within the hallways of colleges and universities, but more of them are locked behind prison bars. This statement in no way implies no inmates are deservingly behind bars. It does however pose the question that if the final decision maker in the case looked more like them, perhaps he or she would have had a better understanding of their background, and the result might have looked different for men unnecessarily serving hard time.

    Our legal system exists on the belief that judges can understand the circumstances of the community they serve. If we cannot meet that presumption, then we might need to reevaluate the role of courts in our society. We need a judiciary that reflects the population, but currently that does not exist. A state court judge has tremendous power and discretion in resolving cases. However, there is limited oversight surrounding the work they do. A state court judge is not only the most significant person resolving thousands of legal disputes that directly affect every day Americans, the judge often is the only person. They are the last word in most cases. A truly representative judiciary would have a fair representation of women and minorities on the bench as it does in the population.

    Virginia is one of many states that judiciary does not reflect its population. Out of 164 judges in the Commonwealth, only 20 of them are African American. There are no Hispanics, Native Americans or Asian judges anywhere in Virginia. Narrowing in specifically on Roanoke there has been only two African American judges — the first appointed in 1985 (Judge George Harris, Jr.) and the other in 2014 (Judge Onzlee Ware). In Lynchburg and surrounding counties there is not a judge of color.

    Accounting to 2010 census, Lynchburg has an estimated population of 79,047. Of that number, 63 percent is white, and 29.3 percent black. Yet never has there been an African American judge. Judges are elected in Virginia, but it is all about whom you know. There have been and currently are qualified lawyers of color throughout Southwest Virginia who proudly and fairly would serve as a state judge. Getting them in that seat is the challenging part.

    No question a diverse court is more likely to represent the interest of a diverse community. It would further provide equality of opportunity, enhance court legitimacy and strengthen the rule of law. Diversity is important because of the need for broader perspectives that can be brought to bear on real-world issues facing judges in complex cases. Adding diversity could possibly bring awareness of the consequences of how the law operates differently based on a different perspective.

    The judiciary should reflect a better image of America we call home. When judges rarely look like the communities they serve, individuals feel mistrust in the justice system’s capacity to be just and fair to everyone. Diversity so important in the courtroom and it is high time to add more people of color behind the judge’s bench versus behind jail bars. Diversity enhances the legitimacy of the justice system in the eyes of a population growing more diverse every year. We need diversity in race and gender because it brings to the bench all the experiences of the citizens whom those judges serve.

  • There’s no place like home for award winning actor and director Eli Harris

    As an infant, Eli Harris was diagnosed with failure to thrive, a condition in which a baby does not follow the typical pattern of weight gain and growth as they age. Sometimes the condition is due to parental neglect. Eli’s biological parents were involved in a tumultuous relationship consisting of a cycle of drugs, physical abuse and repeated periods of incarceration. There was often no food, heat or hot water in the home. Eli went into the foster care system and later adopted. Forty years later he not only has thrived, but also achieved his childhood goal of attaining success in the entertainment industry.

    Now a husband and father of three, Harris has become an award-winning actor, writer, director and producer. Yet no matter how far he travels, Harris still periodically makes time to return to Lynchburg to reflect on his formative years in his hometown. Recently he visited Lynchburg Youth Group Home to share his experiences with the residents. LYGH is a residential facility that offers counseling and other vital support services to at-risk youth. Formally known as Opportunity House, LYGH has a special meaning to Eli. Twenty-five years ago, he was one of those “at-risk youth.” Today he is proof that while the cliché debate of nature versus nurture may remain a mystery, when a child is loved and provided security, they can break the cycle. They can outgrow their past. They can live beyond labels and low-expectations. They can do more than survive. They can thrive.

    Q: Many children in the foster care system are never adopted. They remain in foster care until they turn 18. Studies show more than 500 kids age out of foster care in Virginia every year. Within two years, one in five is homeless and one in four is incarcerated. How were you able to avoid those statistics?

    A: I owe that to my parents. They adopted me. They were loving and caring. They were older, more grandparent age, so they couldn’t do all the things my friends’ parents could do. But their age also meant, I was raised with old-fashioned morals. They grew up in The Great Depression. My father fought in Vietnam. They went through a lot as black people in that era. But they both did very well for themselves. They had businesses and properties. They taught me real values. Loyalty, respect, independence. They were wonderful people, and if it had not been for them, I don’t know where I would’ve ended up. Considering the circumstances I was born into, I could be a very different man. But because of the faith and the love of God that my parents taught me, I’m proud of the man I am.

    Q: What were the circumstances that brought you to Opportunity House?

    A: Hanging around with the wrong people, I chose to do things that I knew were wrong, but I had this need to fit in with a certain group of people. Even now, I still don’t know why I felt that need. I was well taken care of; my parents made sure I didn’t want for anything. I guess I was just trying to find my way. I had a lot of confusion. I always had a bad temper, an anger issue. I loved my (adoptive) parents, but I still couldn’t understand why my biological parents didn’t want me. I acted out. One day I was with one of my so-called friends, and we were stealing things. I was in the clear, but he got caught. And because I was loyal, I stayed and ended up being taken into custody too. Leading up to that I had been skipping class and other dumb stuff. So, that was it for my parents. They didn’t know what else to do. I was taken to the group home, Opportunity House. I was there about a week before I was transferred to New Dominion.

    Q: What is New Dominion?

    A: It was a school for boys. Looking back, I have conflicting emotions. (He laughs.) Some of it was nightmarish. I’m thankful I was there. It helped me. There was a lot of manual labor involved. The school was in the woods, the only real building was the lodge. That’s where the offices were, and the dining hall and school. We had to build the tents that we lived in. Everything had to be earned there. You had to earn the right to go to the school. And it took a minimum of three months to earn school privileges. I was there for 18 months. It was hard to be away from home for that long, but it made me appreciate my parents even more. I learned discipline there. Every privilege you earned could be taken away. They had a time-out area. It was humiliating. They would pick a tree and make you stand there. It was like being five years old again. And if you were behaving in a threatening manner, they could physically restrain you. Life there wasn’t easy, but some of it was fun. And even the harder parts served their purpose. We had group sessions, where we had to express our feelings. So, you had all these teenage boys learning to use words to show their feelings instead of acting out with aggression. That’s invaluable.

    Q: What was life like after you left New Dominion?

    A: I was happy to be home. I refused to associate with any of the negative influences from my past. People talked trash about me, of course, but I was done with fighting and stealing. But my father died two weeks after I came home. I genuinely think my father had held on just to see me become a better man. At least I had a chance to apologize to him before he passed. My mother had developed Alzheimer’s and was put in a nursing home. I still feel that guilt from not being there for them. The whole time I was gone, their health had been failing. My father had written me many letters throughout that 18 months. All I could do was read them, knowing there was nothing that I could do about it. I still have the letters. A shoebox full of letters.

    Q: Do you have any advice for children in foster care or people considering adopting a child?

    A: The most important thing I want kids to know is that it isn’t their fault. They didn’t do anything wrong. For whatever reason their parents were not able to do their job. But they don’t have to be like their parents. They can be better. They have a choice. It’s hard for the younger ones to communicate their feelings, but for the older kids- find a confidant. Everybody needs someone to talk to. I worry especially about the females. I don’t want these girls to think they have to give up their bodies to be loved. And the boys, you don’t have to do stupid things to fit in with +other kids. It’s ok to be different. Embrace that. And I hope that moving forward the younger kids are taught to articulate their feelings better. It’s scary for them when they can’t put things into words. Personally, I knew of one girl who was abused by her foster father and the mother didn’t find out until later. It’s very sad. Not everyone is as fortunate as I was. I guess that brings me to foster parents. They need to take the time to make sure they are ready to be a parent. Make the choice for the right reason. These kids need love and patience. They need structure. Some of the kids have been through horrific things. You must make sure you are able to handle all it entails.

    Q: I’d like to switch gears and discuss your career. When did you first know you wanted to be an actor?

    A: I started acting when I was six with The Cherry Tree Players. I loved it and knew I wanted to pursue it. After I got my diploma, I joined the military. Once I left the service, I went back to acting. I caught my first break in a music video with Raphael Saadiq.

    Q: Stereotypes appear to be rampant in Hollywood. Did you ever feel yourself stereotyped or typecast?

    A: That’s a tricky question. I know racism exists, I’ve seen it in casting. But I’ve done so many different roles, so I’ve avoided it. I’ve been a drug-dealer, but I’ve also been a cop, a news reporter, a doctor, a ninja, a college student and other roles. I think auditioning for a variety of roles kept me from being pigeon-holed.

    Q: Your resume is impressive. What are some of your more memorable moments in the entertainment industry?

    A: When Alicia Keys picked me to play her boyfriend in The Nanny Diaries. Tony Sirico was very complimentary when I worked on The Sopranos. I worked with Matt Damon for a week filming The Departed. I was impressed with his integrity. I told him about a project I was working on at the time. He gave his mangers my number and sure enough when I called, he vouched for me. That stood out to me. My proudest moment was winning the 2010 Mid Atlantic Black Film Festival Award for Best Leading Actor in the film Henry. It was a validation to know a movie I wrote and starred in was being recognized.

    Q: Your new film B-Style is in pre-production. What inspired you to write that story?
    A: The movie centers around a young man named Jason Parrish. A lot of Jason’s story was taken from my life. He ends up in foster care and struggles to find his way. He has to deal with his mother’s drug addiction and other negative influences. He learns to cope by dancing. His counselor, a former dance prodigy, mentors and trains him. One of the overall themes is that art can be therapeutic. And dancing is an expressive form of art. But this is not your typical dance movie. There is dancing, but it’s much more to it. My script is character driven. I think everyone will be able to see parts of themselves in Jason. The things he goes through are things that many of us have been through.

    Q: So many people dream of achieving success in the industry. How did you do it? What’s your secret weapon?

    A: It’s no secret. There is no way I could have achieved any of it without my wife’s support. This is a difficult business to get into. Starting out, you spend more money than you make. It takes time. My wife carried the burden for a while. Never once did she ask me to get a normal job. She believed in me. It was her strength and faith that sustained us. Not only is she the best mother that our kids could ask for, but she is truly my partner in everything.

    Q: I imagine it isn’t easy to tell your story as honestly as you do. It must open old wounds. Why do you continue to do so?

    A: It's my responsibility to give back and be a blessing to others. Nothing given to us from God is for us to keep to ourselves, but to give accordingly. Anything other than that is selfish. I love talking to the youth, particularly those who are troubled. It is rewarding to see them progress and grow to achieve their goals.

    *For more info on B-Style, visit
    *For more info on Lynchburg Youth Group Home,
    contact Martin Cox of LYGH @ 434-455-4071
    *For more info on becoming a foster parent,
    contact Jameshia Gilbert of UMFS @ 434-846-2002 or the local social service office in your community.

  • Belkoom Authentic Lebanese Restaurant provides “mouthful” of good eating on Blacksburg’s Main Street

    Belkoom is a slang Arabic word from the mountain towns of Lebanon that means a large, mouthful of food. According to Belkoom Authentic Lebanese Restaurant’s website, this is what they hope to see inside their establishment. However, if you do not turn your head at the right moment, you might miss the small restaurant tucked away in the corner of a strip mall on Main Street in Blacksburg.

    Moving from Lebanon to Roanoke in 2002, Michael Salamoun always had a strong desire to own a restaurant because he loves to cook.  The entire family rallied to make his dream a reality. Now he and his son, Nasri, own the family-operated business. Nasri says, “We all knew it would be hard work but it is good that the whole family can contribute.” The restaurant is young, open for only two years. It was an easy decision to locate in Blacksburg because of the large international community in the area. In addition, Nasri and his wife Jennie reside in Christiansburg, they both have other employment and they handle a lot of the business side of running the restaurant. Nasri’s sister, Mariana, also works in the restaurant and is responsible for accounting and inventory.

    The interior of the restaurant is bright and colorful with a casual atmosphere. The menu is written on a chalkboard and laminated menus are available with full descriptions of each dish as well. In case you are not certain, pictures are displayed on the countertop as visual aids.

    Aida Salamoun takes orders at the front counter and offers help with describing the menu items. She is quick to credit her daughter-in-law, who handles marketing and public relations, with the decor and logo design. After ordering, we took a seat and perused the menu for potential future visits. The menu contains many vegetarian and vegan options indicated with a “V” for vegetarian and a “V+” for vegan.

    As an appetizer, we chose the Veggie Sampler entree because it provides a good selection of vegan menu items. Included in the sampler is hummus, baba ghanouj and falafel accompanied with pita bread, lettuce, tomato and pickles. The falafel, a menu favorite according to Jennie, are large and crisp on the outside while remaining velvety on the inside. The sesame flavors come through in the tahini, a sauce made of ground sesame seeds, and its saltiness brings out the milder flavor of the falafel. The baba ghanouj made from eggplant is mellow. The hummus was the winner. The dip was extremely creamy with a welcome drizzle of olive oil. The flavors were clean and unadulterated, not needing any additions.

    Kirk is a fan of lamb so he selected the Lamb Kebab Plate, described as savory pieces of lamb, marinated and grilled to perfection. It includes two skewers served with grilled veggies, lettuce with dressing, pickles, hummus, pita bread and rice.  After taking a bite Kirk says, “the lamb is really, really good. It isn’t gamey and it’s so tender.” The Mediterranean spices and tenderness of the meat are a hit, which is why it’s a customer favorite. Mrs. Salamoun says the meat for the kebabs is chosen carefully. Mr. Salamoun “only uses the tender pieces of the lamb for the kebabs and the ones that are not so tender are ground to make Kafta. The lamb is marinated for a few hours ahead of time and the rest is left up to spices used during cooking.” The grilled vegetables include green peppers, onions and tomatoes, and are all incredibly fresh.

    My daughter and I selected wraps, the Ta-Wook and Chicken Shawarma. The Ta-Wook Wrap is seasoned grilled chicken (kebab-style) with fries, pickles, slaw and toom (garlic sauce) wrapped in pita bread. Ta-wook loosely translated means shish kebab. The chicken is so tender it could be shredded. The Chicken Shawarma Wrap is marinated grilled chicken with fries, pickles, lettuce and toom wrapped in pita bread. The wraps look almost identical but they taste completely different. The cut of the chicken is a visible unlikeness, the Ta-Wook is more like chunks, hence the kebab style in the description and the Shawarma is sliced. Another variation are the marinades used for the two types of chicken. Mrs. Salamoun tells us the chicken is marinated for at least 24 hours. This aids in the flavors being so addictive and also the tenderness of the chicken. For both wraps, the fries are on the inside and it makes you wonder why no one has thought of this before. The toom garlic sauce is a secret recipe of Mr. Salamoun’s. The sauce is vegan and definitely garlicky, but does not cover up the flavors of the chicken.

    For dessert, we tried the Burma, which is a variant of Baklava. The shape is cylindrical and the texture of the puff pastry is reminiscent of shredded wheat. The pastry itself is mildly sweet and the pistachios on the inside almost taste candied. Google describes it as “a few layers of very thin phyllo dough placed on top of each other, dressed with nuts between the layers, wrapped around a rolling pin and creased around the pin by pushing. It is then dressed with butter, oven baked and sweetened with the syrup.” For baklava lovers, try it, it is very tasty but not as sweet.

    Kirk chose the Turkish-style coffee after his meal. The coffee can be ordered by the shot or by the pot. The term Turkish describes the method of preparation, which is finely grinding the beans, pouring the hot boiling water over them and then allowing the grounds to settle. Typically, it is not served with sugar, but sweeteners are available should you choose. The coffee is strong but not bitter and served in a small mug (think espresso) and the serving size is adequate. The super-fine grounds left in the bottom of the mug look like melted chocolate, but don’t be tempted to drink.

    Jennie Salamoun offers her perspective as an American who married into a Lebanese family: “If you’ve never tried Lebanese food then you may be intimidated, but it is basically all Mediterranean. There is no hot and spicy, only full flavors.” She encourages people to try it, reiterating that “It’s not scary but a rewarding and cool experience.” Check out this restaurant that thrives on word-of-mouth. It is located at 1301 S. Main Street in Blacksburg. Business hours are Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Takeout is available by calling 540.315.9378.  

  • No fish story here…

    I don’t know about you, but I am really feeling this winter’s weather in many ways than one. First of all the warm weather means the furnace has not come on much, resulting in lower energy bills,  and secondly, the mild temperatures have allowed me the opportunity to spend time in my yard, something that brings me much joy. I have been able to get a jump on clearing out weeds, pruning the rose bushes, tilling the flowerbeds, raking leaves, etc., before spring arrives and the low crawling varmints get to moving. I’m not afraid of snakes, but I would prefer to view them from a distance rather than up close and personal. And, trust me when I say I have been cozy with snakes in recent years, mostly the non-poisonous versions. 

    I have a koi pond that tends to attract a variety of creatures — ducks, geese, heron, raccoons, bears, groundhogs, opossums, skunks, deer, fox, birds, dogs, cats — you name ‘em, they are in my backyard. We built the pond because of my fascination with the fish. Lord knows I didn’t think about all the wildlife and domestic attention it would attract. The other day I looked out the window and there stood three deer drinking from the pond. At the other end was an eclectic flock of birds, taking a bath. The fish had gone into hiding beneath the rock ledges within the lower level of the pond. The birds and deer don’t concern me. Neither do the ducks and geese, dogs and cats and even the three bears that were trapped near my home this summer.  But those doggone fish eaters such as the coon, give me a fit. Last year raccoons cleaned out my pond before I could figure out where the fish were going. They just kept disappearing.

    Raccoons are omnivores with an opportunistic diet. They will eat almost anything they can get their paws on. In urban areas where wildlife and fresh vegetation are limited, raccoons will more likely eat human food and invade trashcans. The majority of their diet consists of sweet foods like fruits and vegetables, but frogs and snakes are among their specialty items, too. It seems to me the better belly filler would’ve been the snakes that find their way to the yard.

    But, no, at my house they went straight for the koi. It only takes one time to lose a pond full of fish before you make some drastic changes. Over the winter, I covered my pond with screen. Now when those beady-eyed fish killers converge on my pond this spring, they will be in for a surprise. The free lunch is over at my house!

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